Tacoma will end its hands-off approach to unlicensed marijuana retailers July 1.
Beginning that day, Tacoma tax and license compliance officers will inspect all known marijuana retailers in Tacoma and issue suspension letters to those operating without a state license, forcing them to shut down immediately.
In a memo sent to City Manager T.C. Broadnax and included in his June 2 weekly report to the City Council, finance director Andy Cherullo outlined Tacoma’s enforcement strategy ahead of the upcoming deadline for marijuana operators to get a state license or shut down. If caught operating after getting a suspension letter from the city, they could face a fine of $250 a day.
“When we started this effort, we sent letters to everybody saying ‘Hey, this is going to be happening,’ so it’s not like people don’t know this is coming, and prior to doing anything we’ll probably send letters again,” Cherullo said. “Either you have your license and you know you’re OK to operate or you don’t have one and you know we’ll be coming to close you down.”
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The changes are in line with a state law passed in 2015 that aims to merge the state’s medical and recreational marijuana systems. Under the new law, all unlicensed shops in Washington must close by July 1.
Either you have your license and you know you’re OK to operate or you don’t have one and you know we’ll be coming to close you down.
City finance director Andy Cherullo
There are about 28 known unlicensed marijuana retailers operating in the city that either have filed a marijuana retail license application with the State Liquor and Cannabis Board or claim to be operating as a “collective garden,” which allows a maximum of 10 medical marijuana patients to grow for their own use. Collective gardens will be replaced July 1 by cooperatives of no more than four medical marijuana patients who can grow at most 60 plants total.
Last August, there were close to 70 unlicensed operators in Tacoma, according to the memo, but since “we started this action, a lot of folks have voluntarily closed,” Cherullo said.
Tacoma is limited by the state to 16 retail licenses, and a recent city ordinance requires every retail operator to also get a medical endorsement to provide for those with medicinal needs. So far, the state has issued 15 licenses in Tacoma and is in the process of issuing the 16th, city officials said, so it’s not hard to figure out who’s licensed and who’s not.
If an unlicensed retailer is shut down, a hearing will be scheduled within three days to give the operator a chance to provide the city with more information about their status. After the hearings, Cherullo said, rulings will be issued within about a week: “It’s relatively straightforward — you’re either going to be legally licensed by the state or you’re not,” he said.
The July 1 deadline does not affect the marijuana producers and processors, said city tax and license manager Danielle Larson. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board has issued 28 marijuana producer and processor licenses in Tacoma, and there is no limit on the number of licenses the board can issue at this time, Larson said in an email.
“Currently, if the city were to receive a complaint or discover an unlicensed marijuana producer/processor, the city would enforce and close the location until they received a state LCB-issued marijuana license and city business license,” she said.
The city expects to shut down all retail operations without a valid state license in early July, according to the memo.